The city of Kelowna has gained national recognition as a COVID-19 hot spot.
Until early July, B.C. had been a model for North America. This province was the first to be hit by the pandemic; it was the first to “flatten the curve” and bring infections under control. B.C.’s interior had no new cases in weeks.
And then around Canada Day, a bunch of younger people gathered at private parties in two Kelowna resort hotels. Some of those people later visited two other sites where infected individuals were present.
As a result, around 300 new cases have been identified. And around 1000 people are now in self-isolation because of the possibility of having been infected.
And those figures, admits Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, are “absolutely going to go higher.”
I think those young people were foolish. But I’m not surprised. Because the means of controlling the coronavirus’s spread were utterly unnatural.
We were told to stay home. To avoid physical contact. To maintain a safe distance. To wash hands, wipe doorknobs, and cough into our elbows.
But I’ll risk saying that our desire to gather together is the primary characteristic that makes us human.. Not the ability to invent tools. Not the ability to walk on our hind legs. Not the size of our brains.
It’s our obsession, our compulsion, to form groups, to belong to something larger than ourselves, that defines us as humans.
Marriage. Family. Clan and tribe. Friendships. All involve more than one person. And all are innate and intrinsic.
As far back as we can trace our roots, our proto-human ancestors clustered. For mutual protection. For cooperative effort.
The need to belong may derive from life itself. All forms of life – plants, animals, even bacteria -- form colonies.
Certainly, togetherness reaches back to our mammalian roots. We mammals have to nurture our offspring, or they die. And although we may have no conscious memories of being held, cuddled, and nursed, I suspect that we have, imprinted somewhere in our cells, an awareness of having been nurtured.
For much of our lives we try to re-create that holy togetherness.
Whenever we have a special occasion, we need other people present. That’s what makes it a special occasion.
No one gets married without a partner.
No one celebrates an anniversary, a promotion, a graduation, by inviting people to stay away.
No high school attempts to raise morale by organizing a dance, a parade, a sports day, to which no one can come.
And Donald Trump will never hold a rally all by himself.
Young and invincible
Inevitably, then, when COVID-19 isolation measures were eased, people were drawn together like iron filings to a magnet.
I’m not disputing the wisdom of the measures imposed to control the wildfire spread of the coronavirus. They were necessary. They worked. But they forced us to override thousands of years of social conditioning.
To control the coronavirus, we had to do the opposite of our natural inclination to cling together in times of trouble.
All over North America, regardless of a region’s politics, the significant increases in new cases are now happening among people in the 20- to 40-year-old age range.
For three obvious reasons.
First, they think they’re immortal. It hasn’t occurred to them yet that they could lose their lives by doing something stupid. That’s why their auto insurance rates are higher. And why they dive off cliffs into shallow water.
Second, they think they’re invincible. They’re strong. They’re healthy. They’re on their way up -- unlike the previous high-risk populations who were on their way down. Care and caution are not part of their emotional vocabulary.
Third, they live in the present. Yesterday doesn’t matter; tomorrow will take care of itself. Let’s party, dude!
Deprived of senses
Traditional wisdom defines five senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. Since the COVID-19 restrictions were imposed, I have been able to use two of those senses, sight and sound, to see faces and share conversation, whether at a safe distance or through electronic technologies.
But the largest sense organ of my body, my skin, might as well have atrophied. Only one person, other than my daughter, has touched me in five months. My skin crawls with yearning to be close again.
It’s not rational; it’s innate.
So I can’t blame the Kelowna party-goers, even if they did launch a new wave of COVID cases. If I were younger, I would probably have joined them.
Copyright © 2020 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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So many of you responded to last week’s column about “white privilege” – sometimes at considerable length! – that I have had to leave out some letters and edit others vigorously.
Sandy Hayes wrote, “Yes, some of us are far more privileged in employment, education, where they can feel comfortable in a restaurant, where they feel safe to live, etc. They usually are white and male. It was good to see you stated the lack of privilege that some women have experienced too -- although many men seem to think that we have ‘more’ privileges as they open doors for us and other little crumbs, when equal pay and feeling safe are not there for a lot of us.
“I like ‘gentlemanly’ behaviors, but not at the cost of jobs, salaries, etc.
“Sometimes, when people say they ‘don’t see colour’ they mean that they FEEL they are not judging or feeling superior to others who are not like ourselves. They are making an effort to be kind and considerate. But sometimes there is a reverse prejudice when people are overly kind or considerate because of someone’s colour. When I was in school -- a thousand years ago -- a black student complained that the teachers did not like him and treated him unfairly because they were racist. One of my friends spoke up: ‘It is not because you are black, it is because you are an asshole.’”
Bruce Thomas: I can’t imagine NOT seeing colour. The analogy might be, to imagine watching TV (as many of us did years ago) in black/white. While we enjoyed the programs, we now see and experience sooooo much more because colour is part of today’s viewing. There’s a richness to be realized because of the addition of colour in our movies, and I would suggest that this may be true also of the colour experienced in our social ‘bubbles’ today.
Jean Skillman noted that it’s not just “white” privilege: “This column captures what I feel about being white, but also female, and educated. I have had slurs directed at me because of being female, and now, being old. And I think the recent events of Black Lives Matter speak loudly that the shift between white “us” and Black “them” is overdue, that a recognition is overdue to even out the economic, educational, decision-making, and power differentials that flow from white privilege. I worry that the violence will escalate into much more organized conflict similar to the Civil War if these differentials are not fundamentally changed.”
Gayle Simonson experienced the female lack of privilege: “I was halfway to a PH.D. in 1971 and had successfully completed my comprehensive exam when I became engaged. My supervisor insisted married women shouldn’t have doctorates and I should switch to a Master’s program. My argument that I already had a Master's degree didn’t sway him. I didn’t want to start over with someone else so, of course, have no doctorate. Incidentally, there were no female professors in that department.”
Bill Hepburn, Pat Bulmer, and several others congratulated my granddaughter on her insight and wisdom.
Steve Roney didn’t. He commented, “She is arguing directly against Martin Luther King, who said ‘I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.’
Steve also commented that my illustrations of situations I have not experienced were “anecdotal, and so cannot serve as evidence…The issue is one of class, not of race.”
Isabel Gibson: “[Blogger] Seth Godin uses ‘insulation’ as another way to express the concept of white privilege (or any kind of privilege, really). He enumerates the things he doesn't have to think/worry about day to day, from having shoes to being assaulted physically or verbally for his skin colour.
“I find ‘insulation’ to be a useful construct, and one that's a little less emotionally charged than ‘privilege.’”
Hanny Kooyman recalled, “I grew up in a society where males were king and females were not given much of an opportunity other than becoming a housewife. And what was the use of further education if you just became a domestic worker? In spite of all odds against me, I managed to have an education in the accepted field of education. But becoming a mother curtailed me again, I was pushed back into the home, and fighting the judgement of ‘women shouldn’t work outside the home.’ Later in life one finds out that the domestic worker sits at the very bottom of society’s layers.”
David Gilchrist: “I appreciate your explanation of the difference between White Privilege, and white Supremacy. When does one become the other? I think it is when a person enjoying the Privilege begins to think of it as Entitlement -- and that leads to the erroneous Supremacy attitude. And it goes beyond being White to include being Wealthy or being Brainy.”
Ruth Shaver followed that same theme: “I think it's essential that we who have White privilege also recognize that the privilege to not be worried about the color of our skin in anything we do is directly related to the existence and continuing power of White supremacy in the world. Our Black and Brown siblings should not bear the responsibility of dismantling the system that oppresses them; that work belongs to us and always has. Perhaps we are finally realizing that fact and perhaps -- I have great hope! -- before the youngest among us have passed away, we will have come much closer to a world where justice and equality without regard to race or ethnicity (or anything else that divides us) are truly the laws of every land instead of the inspirational but as yet unattained hopes of billions of people.”
Tom Watson: “For whatever reason, white people have always believed that they deserve top spot in the human domain. To quote Bill Bryson from his book The Body,
Professor and surgeon Ben Ollivere gently incised and peeled back a sliver of skin about a millimeter (.04 inches) thick from the arm of a cadaver. It was so thin as to be translucent. 'That,' he said, 'is where all your skin color is. That’s all that race is -- a sliver of epidermis.'"
“And this very thin layer of skin is what gives you and me ‘white privilege’? Doesn't make sense to me.”
Sandy Warren: “So much of the advantage we’ve enjoyed as white people in both the U.S. and Canada has been invisible to us because it is the norm of the culture. I am currently reading ‘White Fragility’ and highly recommend it for an enlightening look at the issue of white privilege.”
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